Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cotechino Con Lenticchie

Cotechino is a scrumptious Italian sausage that is traditionally eaten with lentils on New Year's Day. I love this dish so much that I don't bother to wait until then, and make it for my community a few weeks ago.

Cotechino is not widely available. Fortunately, I live in the Bronx's Arthur Ave. Little Italy neighborhood, and I have several butchers within a few minutes' walk who make their own.

Pictured: Cotechino con lenticchie for 36!



Serves 4 Italians (or 4 hungry Americans)

1 pound, 5-ounces cotechino sausage

1¾ cups lentils

1 onion, halved

2 celery stalks

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ tablespoons butter

salt and pepper

Prick the cotechino all over and wrap in foil so that it does not burst. Place in a large pan, add water to cover, bring to just a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for about 2 hours. Leave in the water for 10 minutes before draining, skinning and slicing in ¼ in. slices. If you use a precooked cotechino, you can eliminate the cooking step.

Put the lentils, one onion-half and one of the celery stalks in a large pan, add cold water to cover and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 45-50 minutes until the lentils are tender. Meanwhile, chop the remaining onion-half and celery. Heat the oil and butter in a pan, add the copped onion and celery and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Drain the lentils, discard the onion and celery and add to the pan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste, transfer to a warm serving dish and arrange the cotechino (heated if necessary) on top.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Best Buttermilk Pancakes?

My favorite meal of the week may be Sunday brunch. It lets you sleep in a little and have a big full meal, and still have the rest of the day to sleep it off.

I was looking for a great brunch restaurant recently, when I saw reports that New York's Clinton Street Baking Company has reputedly the best pancakes in the city. Now, that's quite a claim. New York has a lot of restaurants, many with fine pancakes, I'm sure. What could possibly make these so good they win such a superlative?

Previously, the best pancakes I had ever made were from Martha Stewart, who claims she has the best buttermilk pancakes. They're tasty and fluffy, and Ms. Stewart introduced me to a technique of placing a slice of pear in the griddle before pouring the pancake batter over it, resulting in a visually enticing pancake with a pear embedded in one side.

Looking around the interwebs a bit more to find out about these Clinton Street Baking Company pancakes, I discovered that the secret to their extra fluffy, very delicious pancakes was in the technique: allegedly they beat the egg whites separately before folding them into the rest of the batter. Now, that's an intriguing idea.

So, I thought, why don't I combine Martha Stewart's amazing buttermilk pear pancakes with this new technique? Would I not then have created a pancake superior even the aforementioned?

I endeavored to find out, but ahh--hubris is life's strictest teacher.

I set to work, combining the dry ingredients separately form the wet, and beating the egg whites to stiff peaks before folding it all together.

I sliced the pears, tossed them with cinammon, a little sugar, and some maple syrup, and added them to the griddle, then poured the batter over them.

What I immediately noticed was that the batter was far less stiff than I had hoped. If the batter is too runny, it tends to spread out so much that it can't stick together and make a nice, thick pancake. In this recipe, the batter should still cover the pear, so that when the pancake is done, the pear is just on one side, firmly embedded in the pancake. But this time the batter didn't seem to grip the pear, but slid right off.

Well, what can you do at this point but proceed and live with the results? (Well, I could have trashed the batter and started over, but it was getting late in the morning, so I chose the former option.) I continued cooking the pancakes. They took longer than I would have expected as well. When the time came to flip them over, they didn't hold together well, and the pear all but fell out of the pancake.

All in all, a disappointing result.

So what happened? Here's what I think: I didn't have the right proportion of wet to dry ingredients. Too much wet, and this is exactly the result I'd expect with pancakes. They don't hold together, and become thin, uninspiring pancakes, not the thick, uncommonly fluffy pancakes the original recipe promised.

I suspect that my mistake was trying to use Martha Stewart's amazingly great recipe in combination with this new egg white beating technique. See, I found out about this technique on the food blog Let Her Bake Cake. Looking back at the recipe listed there, there's a higher ratio of flour to buttermilk, and I think this was the fatal flaw in my own foolhardy attempt.

Well, maybe that's hyperbolic. In spite of their thinness and almost total inability to hold to the pear, they were pretty delicious just the same. I served them with sausage links and eggs en cocotte, which is eggs baked in individual cups, with some chopped vegetables at the bottom and a little milk or cream floated on top. These eggs are something else I'm still perfecting--I just barely overcooked the yolks this time, as they should come out of the oven soft, but not necessarily runny. Still, they were great.

I made the blueberry compote as recommended on Let Her Bake Cake, and it was fantastic, even using the out-of-season frozen blueberries we had available. I only with I had made more! And likewise the maple-butter topping which sent the whole thing over-the-top.

Cooking is a process of learning, and I am still in my early stages. I make mistakes, but hopefully I recognize where I went wrong, and try again to improve. So I submit this small act of culinary contrition. After all, in spite of it, the brunch was a hit, and certainly not a lemon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guinness Stout Chocolate Cake

w/ Bailey’s Cream Cheese Frosting and Chocolate Ganache



2 cups stout beer (such as Guinness)

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

4 cups all purpose flour

4 cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 large eggs

1 1/3 cups sour cream


¾ lb cream cheese (leave on the counter overnight)

½ lb unsalted butter (leave on the counter overnight)

1 tsp Bailey’s Irish Cream (or to taste)

1 lb powdered sugar, sifted


1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

¾ tbsp light corn syrup

¾ cup heavy cream


Photographs were taken while I was making 3 cakes, hence the massive quantities.

For cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with cooking spray. Line with parchment paper (trace circles & cut them out).

Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. The mixture will thicken and resemble brownie mix. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed.

Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined

(this will require some elbow grease). Divide batter equally

among prepared pans. Bake cakes until a toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35-45 minutes.

Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely (2-3 hours).

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, butter and Bailey’s in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined. Add the sifted sugar and mix until smooth.

Place 1 cake layer on plate, upside down. Spread icing over, with about a quarter inch bare edge. Top with second cake layer, upside down. Repeat icing technique. Top with third cake layer, right-side up. Finish frosting the cake.

Chill in the refrigerator for 10-20 minutes.

For the ganache:

In a heatproof bowl, place the chocolate chips and the corn syrup. Bring the heavy cream to a full boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and whisk it until shiny and smooth then set it aside.

Pour ganache over the top of the cake and, with a cake spatula, smooth the top of the cake and allow ganache to spill over the sides. Because of how good this is, sloppy is OK. Refrigerate for 20 minutes or longer.

Serve the cake cold or allow it to come to room temperature before serving.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Carrot Cake w/ Pineapple & Raisins

Hello, I'm Christopher Calderón, SJ, a new contributor to Jesuit Recipes. I'm a Scholastic who is currently studying Philosophy at Loyola Chicago.

I enjoy cooking, but I love baking. When I feel exhausted by studies, it's baking that lifts my spirits up. My housemates don't mind it either. Although many of my recipes are adapted from such greats as Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) and Emeril Lagasse, I hope that I can offer simple tips to take the intimidation out of baking.

Today, we're working on one of my favorite recipes: Carrot Cake with pineapple and raisins*. This recipe is always moist and delicious - a definite crowd-pleaser.


For the cake:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar (organic works as well. not sure about splenda, equal, etc)
  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature (leave on the counter the night before)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 pound carrots, freshly grated (6-8 carrots)
  • 1/2 cup (4oz) diced fresh pineapple (an 8oz can of crushed pineapple is much cheaper, depending on the season, and works fine)

For the frosting:

  • 3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature (leave on the counter the night before)
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature (leave on the counter the night before)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (2cups/16oz) confectioners' sugar, sifted
FYI, I use fat free cream cheese typically and I note no difference from the regular.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Take a sheet of parchment paper and trace two circles using the bottom of the cake tin. Cut the circles out.

Using cooking spray, spray 2 (8 or 9-inch) round cake pans completely. Line with parchment paper; This will help the cake to form a perfectly flat surface and prevent sticking.

For the cake:

Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light yellow. I would recommend cracking the eggs in a separate bowl. You never know if you'll get a bad egg or a piece of shell, or worse, you don't want to risk dropping the whole egg into the mixer.

Add the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, the cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour. Break up any raisin clumps you might have. The flour dusting helps with even distribution throughout the cake. Fold in the carrots and pineapple. If you are using canned pineapple, drain the juice out and use all 8oz of can.

Add to the batter and mix well. Make sure to scrape the sides down. Also, use a spatula to scrape the bottom. Doing both these things will ensure that all the dry ingredients are well mixed with the wet.

Divide the batter equally between the 2 pans.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set over a wire rack (12"/12"). I would recommend about 3 hours. Icing a warm cake is a messy situation.

Once the cakes are cool, take another rack and place it on top of the tin. Then flip the cake upside down. Tap on the bottom of the tin and slowly remove the tin from the cake. Peal back the parchment paper and discard. Take the other rack and place it on the cake, so that it is sandwiched by the racks. Flip the cake once more so that it is right side up. Repeat with other cake.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until just combined - about 30 secs on medium speed. Add the sifted sugar and mix until smooth - about 1-2 minutes on med-high speed.

Take a small dab of icing and put it on the center of the cake platter. This helps to keep the cake in place. Place 1 layer, flat-side up, on the platter. Do not worry about the dome; it will flatten out with time. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. Be generous. When you frost leave about a half inch frosting-free edge along the cake.

Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top (start with the center) and sides of the cake (frost from the top and work way down).

You can decorate the cake with a little sprinkling of cinnamon (freshly grated is always best), whole walnuts or pecans as a border (whichever was used), or nothing at all.

If you are going to enjoy the cake within 3-4 four hours, it need not be refrigerated. If not, place in the refrigerator and remove 1 hour before eating.

*Recipe Adapted from an Ina Garten Recipe.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Speaking of fasting...

Recently in Image, the journal of art, faith, and mystery, I came across a great reflection on the Lenten fast from an Eastern Orthodox perspective:

Lent is upon us. If you want to make an Orthodox Christian commit the sin of pride (and thus, in theory at least, to have to go to Confession), then mention how hard it is to remember your decision to “give up” chocolate, or to complain about having to eat fish on Fridays during Lent.

By contrast, Orthodox Christians observe four extended fasting seasons per liturgical year—Advent (or the Nativity Fast); Great Lent; the fast before the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul (usually in June); and the Dormition Fast, which commemorates the falling asleep of Mary, the Theotokos. (Orthodox tend to hedge the question of Mary’s assumption into heaven, although I know of at least one Orthodox Church of the Assumption.)

That adds up to more than a third of a year. During this time, Orthodox are asked to abstain from meat and dairy products, as well as alcohol and even olive oil, depending on what day of the week or month it is.

I especially liked the link between the fast and good physical and spiritual health:

I cannot say enough about the sheer, simple gratitude to God that I have felt on those Lenten days when I have heaped my plate with tofu and chickpeas and spinach, and felt that vitamin-laden food—exactly what no less a secular authority than Mark Bittman of The New York Times prescribes as the most healthy diet—hit my stomach after a long day. Not enough to be stuffed, but just enough to be sustained, to have the strength to do good work and love others better and to increase prayer.

Check out the rest.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

There's an ongoing discussion among some members of the Jesuit communities I've lived in over the kinds of foods we eat and how that impacts the ecology. For some, industrial livestock operations, where most of our meat comes from, are so destructive to the environment on many levels that the only responsible choice is to maintain a vegetarian diet. This choice becomes difficult in a religious community, where food supplies and meals are shared in common. The vegetarian must either abstain from part of our common meals, request that vegetarian options be made in addition to the regular meals, or maintain a separate shopping list and prepare their own meals. All of these options create dilemmas when living in religious community. Our common life and apostolic poverty don't always make independent meals a feasible option.

I came across an interesting article on 6 Baby Steps Toward a More Sustainable Animal Diet which proposes that you don't have to give up meat entirely to be a good steward of the environment:

The most common question I get about my new book Animal Factory, which comes out Tuesday, March 2,is, "Am I going to have to become a vegetarian after reading this?"

My answer usually throws people off.

"No," I say, "You're going to want to eat even MORE meat, eggs and dairy!" Then, as a bemused brow breaks over their face, I add: "But by that, I mean more that is raised humanely and sustainably, without harm to human health or the environment."

Kirby proposes six steps to make this idea a reality for ordinary consumers: Be label conscious, pick a protein, become cooperative, go red-tag shopping, go online, eat less meat. Check out the whole article to see what he means by all this.

On his last point, eat less meat, Kirby proposes the Meatless Monday campaign to encourage people to reduce their meat consumption. The Meatless Monday campaign is a non-profit initiative in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to "help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet."

While I think that's a fantastic initiative, it got me thinking. This is Lent after all, and as a Catholic, I participate in meatless Friday's as part of my Lenten fast. Meatless Fridays have a long tradition in Catholicism, and although they were eliminated as a normative rule with the reforms of the 20th century, it's still a custom practiced by many Catholics around the world.

So, how about promoting a voluntary return to Meatless Fridays as a Catholic associate of the Meatless Monday's campaign? It certainly doesn't mean you have to go to a fish fry every Friday, in fact, there are all kinds of wonderful vegetarian recipes out there. This Lent in my house, we've had green peppers stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and black-eyed peas, spinach enchiladas, and I'm really looking forward to a Thai rama tofu dish I'm planning for a couple of weeks from now.

Now, I'm not proposing that the rule of abstinence from meat be reinstated. As Jesuits, discernment is central to our spirituality, and ideally folks ought to be able to discern for themselves whether this is appropriate. Part of that discernment includes the concept of thinking with the Church, and since the Church does teach about the stewardship of the environment, perhaps the time is right for a movement to encourage Catholics to prayerfully discern whether meatless Fridays are something they might participate in as something good for their souls, good their bodies, and good for the environment.